View Full Version : How do you pack your gear for air travel?

2-Mar-2008, 04:42
I have a Lowepro Phototrekker II - will I be able to get this in as cabin luggage by any chance?
I'm considering the alternatives.
I was going to pack the tripod in my general hold luggage, and similarly the tripod head, and maybe resin filters.
Instead of the Lowepro I could take an Osprey non photo specific backpack, which is quite a bit smaller, an awful lot lighter and more comfortable, will hold the Ebony and lenses, though not in quite such orderly fashion, and not as much of it of course. But I do end up shedding (or redistributing to pockets) around 12 pounds weight this way.
I have an Ebony 4x5 and plan to take probably three lenses plus the usual lightmeter, Quickload etc.
I also want to take a Mamiya 7 and three lenses.
Any suggestions?
Also I read about flying with film ... and Xrays and disasters etc. Is there any reason at all not to put it all in hold (rather than cabin) luggage ... apart from the risk of the luggage getting lost of course?!

Arne Croell
2-Mar-2008, 07:46
The X-ray scanners for checked baggage are much more powerful than the carry-on ones,so do not put film in it:

I have my gear(Linhof camera,5 lenses, light meter, film) in a regular (non-photo) wheeled carry-on case by Rimowa. For padding,the gear is either in a Lightware insert that fits the Rimowa exactly or in the boxes/inserts made by Photobackpacker. The tripod is in the checked baggage.

Brian Ellis
2-Mar-2008, 08:51
I have a Lowepro Phototrekker that I used for a while. I'm not sure if it's a II or not, it holds my 4x5 camera, five lenses, about ten holders, meter, dark cloth, filters, etc. with no room to spare. If that's the same as your model, it will fit in the storage area above the seats but just barely and only on a full-size plane. It won't fit in that area on the smaller commuter-type planes.

Brian K
2-Mar-2008, 09:11
You have to be more specific than just "air travel' as carry on allowances vary from airline to airline and international versus domestic. Most airlines allow one carry on, usually 22x14x9" or with combined dimensions of 45", and a "personal item" (laptop case, briefcase, small shoulder bag). Check specifically with the airline that you intend on flying with, or do a survey of the airlines that serve your destination and compare their carry on policies. The different classes also may have different allowances, with first or business classes being the most lenient. On my photography trips I have had to bite the bullet and go first class just to ensure that I can bring all of my needed gear without a hassle or having to surrender my camera case to checked baggage, a requirement that would result in my canceling the entire trip literally while attempting to board the plane. Also as first class is a big money maker for airlines they tend to favor those flying first class and will overlook small infractions so as not to lose future business from a first class flyer.

As an example of airline to airline differences, in flying to New Zealand, I originally had tickets with Quantas, but while they use the 45" dimension they only allow 15 pounds of carry on weight per bag. Given that the case empty weighs about 6-7 pounds that would not allow me to take all the gear I need. So I cancelled my Quantas tickets and chose Air Tahiti Nui which allows 2- 22 pound bags as carry on. (These are first class allowances so check if you plan on flying business or economy class).

Under no circumstances put your film into checked baggage, it is almost a certainty that it will be destroyed by the CT scanners. Always carry your film on and whenever possible request a hand search of the film instead of x-ray. Again using my NZ trip as an example, I will be taking a total of 6 flights and spending 42 hours in the air. There is a high possibility of fogging the film with that many x-rayings and with that much time in the sky. Remember that time spent in the air is the same as receiving a low dose of x-ray (cosmic radiation). On this trip, 42 hours of airtime is a substantial dose. As 3 of my flights depart within the US, I will request hand searches of my film in those airports. By law in the US if you request a hand search they have to comply.

An option is to ship your film via fedex, DHL or UPS to your destination prior to departing. However there's no guarantee that the film won't be x-rayed and personally I never let my film leave my sight.

MIke Sherck
2-Mar-2008, 09:30
I don't travel by air. It's very difficult to stop when I want to photograph.


Louie Powell
2-Mar-2008, 10:31
I've traveled all over the world with cameras, but so far have taken the 4x5 kit on only one trip. Here's a summary of what I did.

My camera is a Zone VI lightweight, and I have two lenses, each on their own boards. I use a Lowepro Nature Trekker backpack for the camera, lenses, spotmeter, six holders, a CD case with Cokin filters, and odds and ends. I used this as a carryon backpack - it fit comfortably into the overhead (on Southwest).

I also carried an old Dell laptop briefcase (my "personal item"). This held eight more holders, a box of unexposed film, three empty film boxes to bring exposed film home in, a changing bag, my Nikon FM2 with several rolls of film, my PDA, my ticket, passport, car keys and loose change (I always take all the metal out of my pockets when flying), and a paperback book to read on the plane. The briefcase shared space with my feet under the seat in front of me.

I normally keep my tripod in the holder that is part of the Lowepro, but for traveling I used a canvas tripod bag and checked it. I was concerned that a tripod might be interpreted as "weapon-like", and wanted to avoid any hassle.

TSA security was a concern. I chose to let my film go through ordinary screening rather than request a hand inspection. When departing from Albany (NY), the inspectors opted to do a wipe test inside the backpack, but they didn't open it fully or paw through it. The Dell briefcase didn't attract their attention at all.

On the return flight (from San Jose, CA- where there are more LF cameras per capita than anywhere else in the world), everything went through security without even a second glance.

My film was in double black plastic bags inside traditional three-part film boxes. All of my film boxes had large labels that said "Photographic Film - Open in Total Darkness Only". After applying these labels, I covered the outer components of the three-part boxes with clear shipping tape. Then, while traveling, I wrapped a strip of blue painter's tape around the boxes - the clear tape made sure that the painter's tape would peel off without damaging the boxes. The objective was to assure that if someone decided to look inside a film box, the act of removing that painter's tape would focus attention on the warning label. I was prepared to let the inspectors open a film box using my changing bag if they insisted. But they didn't.

Finally, I made a point of getting to the airport and going through security well ahead of the scheduled flight time.

By the way - I found that to reload holders, I could darken the bathroom of the motels we stayed in by simply stuffing a bath mat under the bathroom door, and then turning off the lights in both the room and the bathroom. The only problem was that the amount of counter space in the bathroom is limited.

Lessons learned -

- it's not as hard as the scare stories you read in various internet discussion groups
- take fewer holders (which means that I will have to reload more every night). This is mainly a weight consideration. 8-10 holders should be enough for one day, especially considering that time during the day must be shared with my wife's interests.
- always dry off the bathroom sink before loading holders. That way, if the box of unexposed film slips off the counter and into the sink, the film won't get wet, causing the interleaving paper to stick to the emulsion. (yup - that was a painful lesson!)

2-Mar-2008, 10:55
I have a Lowepro Phototrekker II - will I be able to get this in as cabin luggage by any chance?

I've been using that bag as a camera carry-on for awhile. No problems, though so far I've only flown two airlines with it: Air Canada and Westjet, within North America. No problems getting it on board anywhere yet, though I guess it's more an airline thing than a region thing.

Tripod goes in my packed luggage, and I take the clip-on accessory daypack off and either leave it at home or also stuff it in my suitcase.

I ask for hand inspection of my film boxes (taped shut!) and holders. One holder had glycerine detected by the swab / chromatograph machine. Stupid, because glycerine is a ubiquitous substance in cosmetics and soaps and stuff, but I did have to get that holder X-rayed. Security guy was nice though and didn't X-ray everything else - I guess just because it was a pretty innocuous substance. Had it been the nitric acid part of that particular cocktail I may not have been so lucky ;)

2-Mar-2008, 11:39
As an example of airline to airline differences, in flying to New Zealand, I originally had tickets with Quantas, but while they use the 45" dimension they only allow 15 pounds of carry on weight per bag.

My experience with Qantas is that they are very strict in this regard; one reason I try not to fly with them any longer.

Brian K
2-Mar-2008, 11:45
My experience with Qantas is that they are very strict in this regard; one reason I try not to fly with them any longer.

Makes me glad that i decided to switch to Air tahiti Nui, however at the cost of direct flight from LA to Auckland, to ATN having to stop and overnight in Tahiti. Fifteen pounds for a carry on bag is absurd.

Ted Harris
2-Mar-2008, 12:04
I travel all over with gear. Usually a Toyo 45AII, 2 or 3 lenses, film (always ready/quickloads, holder, lightmeter, loupe, btzs cloth, feisol tripod, ball head,fuji finepix s5, 2 lenses. All but the tripod and head, carefully packed, fit into an Orvis Safe Passage gear bag which meets the requiements for "personal bag." The tripod an head go into either a Rimowa or Orvis rollaboard (sometimes some film in there too) along with clothing, etc. The gear bag will fit under any seat on any plane.

Brian K
2-Mar-2008, 12:44
As my trips are usually in the 6-10 week range so I tend to pack pretty heavy. This is what I'm bringing on my next flying to trip:

22x14x9" Backpack:

Linhof MT3000
2 sinar zoom backs (usually a I and a II, the I uses a built in curtain so it doesn't suffer from wind, the II is just easier to use and more reliable)
545i polaroid back
8 lenses (from 65mm to 500mm)
Zone VI spot meter
Pocket spot meter
2 loupes
Linhof Multi viewfinder
16 filters (all 67mm)
Compendium hood
water repellent Darkcloth (also usable to protect camera in rain)
120 sheets Type 55 (for use both as a polaroid and as a film for more square images, the latter returned home for processing)

In the personal bag:

160 rolls of 120 film
laser rangefinder and or Binoculars
GPS and cables
extra GG
paperwork (itineraries, maps, confirmations, etc)
Kestrel 3500 (weather readings)
Several LED flashlights (including red filtered to save night vision)
spare batteries
palm pilot with astronomical, tide and photographic software
small P&S digital for snaps

As for the tripods I'm bring 2, each packed in a separate checked bag. A gitzo carbon with an RSS head, and a newly purchased Ries H600 with an RSS head. The 2 bags and 2 tripods is in case one bag gets lost, this way I'm not losing days, or even weeks, waiting to get a new tripod in some remote area. Also the Ries is usable in water, the gitzo while better for hiking is not. I'm also bringing chest high fishing waders as the best shot may sometimes require getting wet. A good sturdy umbrella is also a must for use as a wind blocker.

Louie Powell
2-Mar-2008, 13:50
I find it interesting that so many of us include a GPS receiver and a PDA in our "personal bags."

Especially when some people consider large format film photography to be the refuge for Luddites.

I also include a fountain pen in my bag, loaded with ink from a bottle. I consider myself more a purist than a Luddite!

Gordon Moat
2-Mar-2008, 14:04
Currently using a Lowepro CompuTrekker AW, with one or two SlipLock 60AW pouches added, depending upon extra gear. So far this has fit overhead on even the smaller commuter planes I have flown on; actually better than I fit in their seats, since planes seem to be made for much shorter people. I think the CompuTrekker is a bit smaller than the PhotoTrekker, though the CompuTrekker can meet stricter size limits on some airlines. The computer slot works well for a laptop, or to carry Readyloads or Quickloads.


Gordon Moat Photography (http://www.gordonmoat.com)

Diane Maher
4-Mar-2008, 06:34
I used a laptop bag which has three compartments. I put my whole plate camera, two or three lenses, three holders, film (and empty box to store exposed film in) and accessories (darkcloth, meter, level, cable releases, notebook) in it and went to Seattle in January. I shipped my film back to myself at the end of the trip, but took it with me on the plane there. I didn't have any problems and took the film out of the bag and put it in with my coat for the trip through the carry on x-ray. I figured that the camera and lenses would draw more attention than the box of film. The bag was looked at in the x-ray (I think they changed the angle that they were looking at it) and otherwise, I had no problems with travel.

My tripod with the head was packed in a tripod bag and checked. I removed the tilt and pan handles on the head. No problems there either. I was asked at the ticket counter what it was and I said a tripod. They said I should tell the people at the x-ray machine that when I dropped it off and I did and had no problems.